“Love makes us kind if we let it,” are the haunting first and last words of BBC3’s new one-off drama Murdered by My Father. They’re spoken by 16-year-old Londoner Salma who is narrating from beyond the grave after being killed by her dad.
Her hopeful phrase is still ringing in my ears now, several hours since I watched it, because it jars so violently with the film’s unutterably bleak ending.
The hour-long film tells the story of teenager Salma who lives with her widowed dad (Adeel Akhtar) and younger brother Hassan (Reiss Jeram) in the London suburbs. An ordinary teenager, she goes to college, grumbles about homework, has friends and is secretly seeing a boy who she’s very happy with.
But it’s not all as rosy as it seems. Her dad has promised her to Haroon (Salman Akhtar), the son of a business associate – the match will be good for the reputation of his family, and ensure they are financially stable. Salma says she’ll marry him once she’s finished college. But things begin to take a tragic turn when she’s suspected of loving someone else.
Part of the tragedy and power of the film lie in the fact that we know, at some point, Salma will be killed by her father Shahzad. But Akhtar’s portrayal of the weak, fearful patriarch is so brilliantly human that you can’t quite believe he’ll really do it. It’s also clear that it doesn’t enter Salma’s mind that her dad would do something so horrific, either. You know the outcome but it still plays out like a thriller.
His agonising turmoil is palpable – he loves his daughter fiercely, yet deeply rooted within him is a fear of being shamed that is so crippling, he’s capable of killing his own child. “When you marry I can die happy” he says quietly, stroking Salma’s hair as she sobs about her future.
There are moments when you think he might cave and let Salma be with her boyfriend Imi (Mawaan Rizwan) and finish school instead of forcing her to marry a man she doesn’t even like. As Salma, Kiran Sonia Sawar gets across wonderfully the torment of trying to appeal to the reasonable, kind part of her dad who will just let her be. But she can’t get there. “Can’t we be happy for each other, dad?” she asks, trying to hug him. Instead, as Haroon and his family start branding Salma a “whore”, Shahzad is engulfed with an uncontrollable, shocking fury.
Written by young screenwriter Vinay Patel, the drama is based on the 12,000 cases of so-called “honour-based” violence reported in the UK since 2010. These include abductions, beatings and an estimated 60 murders, with around 9,000 calls made to helplines. If you’ve always taken for granted that you could love whoever you want, it’s hard to get your head around the idea that young women are killed for defying their family’s wishes – but this drama goes a long way to explaining the psychology behind these murders, without in anyway justifying them.
Like the Bafta-winning Murdered by my Boyfriend, in which Georgina Campbell played a 17-year-old girl in a fatally abusive relationship, this follow-up film deserves awards for doing an incredible job of highlighting an issue so beautifully and believably.
Murdered by My Father is available to watch on BBC iPlayer from 6pm on 29th March